NBA lockout defined basketball in ’11

Despite a troubling threat to US basketball, fans flocked to games

Editor’s Note: Due to editorial deadlines for this issue, score records here may not be the most current.

2011 was an odd year for NBA players, coaches, vendors and fans. The season did not begin until Dec. 25, nearly two months later than normal. Precipitated by conflicts over revenue sharing and salary caps, the NBA lockout took force on July 1, when preseason games were canceled and teams could not trade or sign players and the players could not use NBA facilities. This meant disappointed fans, a great decline in revenue for many urban areas, loss of salary for the players and the vendors and an overall tense feeling in the air. What could possibly be so terrible that threatened an entire NBA season?

It all started in 2005, when the NBA and the player’s union proposed a six year collective bargaining agreement that would include a luxury tax every season and a shortening of the length of maximum player contracts to five or six years. However, in 2009, officials brought back the collective bargaining agreement two years before the old deal would even expire. Tensions mounted early in 2010 when owners of NBA teams came together and suggested a “hard” salary cap for players and a motion to cut the maximum contracts down even further, to just four years. The player’s union fired back unfavorably and attempted to negotiate until the NBA revealed in Oct. 2010 that it wanted to drastically cut player salaries because of an expected $350 million in losses for that season. Other proposals on the table included an idea to cut whole teams entirely. By as early as Nov. 2010, Billy Hunter, the executive direction for the National Basketball Player’s Association, said that he was, “99 percent sure there would be a lockout.”

In 2011, the conflict escalated. In May, the player’s union filed a lawsuit against the National Labor Relations Board to attempt to deter the lockout from happening. When no concrete deal was reached by Jun. 30, 2011 at midnight (when the old CBA deal expired), the lockout began. Many players went overseas to continue playing. Nets guard Deron Williams signed with Turkey’s Beskitas, and Carmelo Anothony and Chris Paul came close to signing with China. Continued talks proved more and more unproductive, as the NBA’s chief operating officer, Adam Silver, mentioned that the union must commit to a collective bargaining agreement or else the matter would not be resolved.

A marathon of contentious meetings ensued in October and November 2011 with the union filing antitrust lawsuits against the NBA until Dec. 8, 2011, when the lockout ended. The union and the NBA agreed upon a new ten-year collective bargaining agreement that would allow a 66 game season to begin on Dec. 25th. Also included in the deal were a 50-50 split of basketball related income, a higher luxury tax, the same soft salary cap system as before, a maximum player contract length of five years and a maximum annual salary increase of 7.5 percent for teams resigning players and 4.5 percent for free agents. This new agreement also contains a revenue-sharing system where teams “in trouble” could receive from $40 to $196 million by 2014, and player salaries were cut by 12 percent.

While the players are thrilled to be playing again and games as selling out quicker than ever, we cannot forget the adverse effects that the lockout had on local economies. On a grand scale, excess money that some citizens would have spent on NBA games was spent on other activities — like going to the movies or the mall — boosting revenues in other economies. But the vendors, workers, ticket collectors and valet parkers who served the stadiums lost their jobs. With our economy’s high unemployment rate, it is difficult for these workers to find other “low-skill” type jobs. Luckily, the stadiums are back in business, and fans are flocking to games as though the lockout never happened.

Since the start of the season on Christmas Day, standout teams to watch have been the Philadelphia 76ers, the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic, the Miami Heat, and the Denver Nuggets, each with over 70 percent wins. The best team in the league right now is the Chicago Bulls, with a 16-3 record, no home games lost so far and Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer contributing to a massive offensive force.

Some teams, however, started off weaker than last season. The Charlotte Bobcats and the Washington Wizards, both with less than 20 percent wins, have struggled immensely. In recent news, the Wizards fired their head coach, Flip Saunders, on Jan. 24 due to his disconnect with the players. Only time will tell if assistant coach Randy Wittman can save the team.

As the season continues, I think we’ll see more heated contests between Chicago and Miami, which will continue to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat bring an impressive new rookie, Norris Cole, a healthier team overall and more standout players than just the Bulls’ Rose and Deng. This is assuming no further injuries or coach changes. However, the season is still young, and the Bulls will definitely put up a strong fight. Similarly in the Western Conference, the Thunder and the Mavericks are as strong as last year, with the Thunder leading a massive offensive stride recently. The Thunder’s Serge Ibaka, Forward-Center, has been a key contributor to the team’s recent success, with his double-doubles and wide range of defensive abilities. However, the Clippers have the current edge over the Mavericks. A huge turn around from last year, the Clippers boast Chris Paul, fresh from the Hornets, Chauncey Billups and last year’s best rookie, Blake Griffen. The contest will be fierce, and it seems as though the NBA picked up right from where it left off before the lockout with a possible repeat of last year’s Heat-Bulls and Thunder-Mavericks conference match ups.

After this whirlwind year, I’m very glad that he lockout is over. I can cheer on my favorite teams again, and I’m excited to see what 2012 will bring for the NBA.